Whaddya Call It?

Geneabrarian’s thoughtful post on genealogy/hobbyism/professionalism/identity, along with equally thoughtful commentary from Elyse Doerflinger and Thomas MacEntee, really got me thinking, even with a sinus headache raging in the background.

Although I don’t think there’s anything wrong with genealogy-as-hobby, I hate that word. I have a totally personal dislike of describing serious concepts with words employing that “-y” sound. For instance, I also hate the term “bullying.” In workplaces, you’d call it harassment. In school, we call it “bullying,” which gives out a cuddly, nursery-school vibe. It minimizes. Similarly, “hobby” sounds trite as opposed to, say, “avocation” or even “pastime.”

And yet, from very early on I have shied away from calling myself a “genealogist.” For one thing, as I wrote a while back, it could get people’s backs up, and wreck perfectly good parties. Then, too, there was the little matter of the complete lack of credentials. Without a C.G., was I a genealogist? Could I be? If not, what was I?

Thinking over Geneabrarian’s post, I realize that for years I have been sidestepping this issue by describing what I do, not who I am. “I’m tracing my ancestors in upstate New York,” I began saying not long after starting in genealogy, in the early 1990s. I was still a working journalist at that point, and this sort of language clicked with colleagues. But this method has continued to be useful in that it expands to fit the situation. “I write family histories.” “I help people retrieve records for their genealogy research.” And so on.

Yet a unified brand makes sense. So much of communication today revolves around the instant sense of connection, the strong first impression. But this is a challenge when applied to the world of genealogy. Some of us are trying to earn an income from genealogical research. Some are not. Some are thinking about it. Some are combining genealogical interests with other professions.

Right now I’m at a loss for a noun that works for all of it.  Maybe a phrase — like “people who rescue the history of everyday citizens.”

Unfortunately, that would look like hell on a logo.


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